INCENSE – A BRIEF HISTORY

INCENSE – A BRIEF HISTORY

The word incense comes from Latin for incendere meaning "to burn".

Combustible bouquets were used by the ancient Egyptians, who employed incense within both pragmatic and mystical capacities. Incense was burnt to counteract or obscure malodorous products of human habitation, but was widely perceived to also deter malevolent demons and appease the gods with its pleasant aroma. Resin balls were found in many prehistoric Egyptian tombs in El Mahasna, furnishing tangible archaeological substantiation to the prominence of incense and related compounds within Egyptian antiquity. One of the oldest extant incense burners originates from the 5th dynasty.[7] The Temple of Deir-el-Bahari in Egypt contains a series of carvings that depict an expedition for incense.[8]

The Babylonians used incense while offering prayers to divining [9] oracles.[10] Incense spread from there to Greece and Rome.

Incense burners have been found in the Indus Civilization (3300 BCE- 1300 BCE).[11] Evidence suggests oils were used mainly for their aroma. India also adopted techniques from East Asia, adapting the inherited formulation to encompass aromatic roots and other indigenous flora. This comprised the initial usage of subterranean plant parts within the fabrication of incense.[12] New herbs like Sarsaparilla seeds, frankincense, and cypress were used by Indians for incense.[12]

At around 2000 BCE, Ancient China began the use of incense in the religious sense, namely for worship.[13] Incense was used by Chinese cultures from Neolithic times and became more widespread in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties.[14] The earliest documented instance of incense utilization comes from the ancient Chinese, who employed incense composed of herbs and plant products (such as cassia, cinnamon, styrax, sandalwood, amongst others) as a component of numerous formalized ceremonial rites.[12] Incense usage reached its peak during the Song Dynasty with numerous buildings erected specifically for incense ceremonies.

Brought to Japan in the 6th century by Korean Buddhist monks, who used the mystical aromas in their purification rites, the delicate scents of Koh (high-quality Japanese incense) became a source of amusement and entertainment with nobles in the Imperial Court during the Heian Era 200 years later. During the 14th century Shogunate, a samurai warrior might perfume his helmet and armor with incense to achieve an aura of invincibility (as well as to make a noble gesture to whomever might take his head in battle). It wasn't until the Muromachi Era during the 15th and 16th century that incense appreciation (Kōdō) spread to the upper and middle classes of Japanese society.

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